It goes something like this:
STAGE 1: I must do everything right!
No, you don’t understand. Don’t tell me to loosen up, chill out. I. Have. To. Do. EVERYTHING-PERFECTLY. It’s up to me, and if I make the wrong choice—if I choose the wrong formula, breastfeed too little/for too long, make the wrong sleeping arrangement, choose the wrong bath product, introduce bananas before avocados, and fail to choose the right educational toys-and-stimulations, I will ruin my child’s entire life, raise a psychopath, a future prison inmate unable to form meaningful, nurturing relationships with people, and, and…
What? I am not over-reacting. This matters. It’s EVERYTHING. Parenting is how we change the world, and that’s what I’m doing right now, so get out of my way or I will bludgeon you with my organic-cotton, fair-trade woven diaper bag.
STAGE 2: Fuck it. Nothing I do matters.
Alternate title: No matter what I do… they just become themselves!
No, that’s not despair. No, really, not despair. Some exhaustion talking, yes, but mostly, it’s recognition that all those early choices, cross-roads decisions over which I agonized so much… they don’t matter. I can’t remember who weaned when and how, and neither can they. I’m pretty sure I screwed up toilet training completely two out of three times—and yet, there they are, not fouling their pants (well, one out of two, cough, cough). The kid who wasn’t allowed any sugar and whose teeth I brushed pathologically got cavities; the kid who had three post-tooth brushing snacks a night got none. The kid I read to for six hours a day and kept screen-free until age 8 didn’t read until age 11—and books are not the way he chooses to get either his information or his entertainment. The kid raised with iPad on demand (“Would you please, please just watch SOMETHING so I can sleep?”) cares not for shows or video games at all. Guns or dolls, gender-compliant or gender-defiant toys and clothing… none of it matters.
They’re their own people and they become who they’re supposed to be—independent or uber-attached, shy or social, creative or analytical, kinda crazy, way-too-sane… I was the vessel that brought them here, and that’s all.
So, fine. Nothing I do matters.
It’s kind of liberating, really. I can’t take credit for the good—but I can’t be blamed for the bad either, right?
STAGE 3: OMFG, my power to screw up these children’s lives, beyond all help and hope, is unlimited—HELP!
Alternate title: Everything I do matters, Redux Cubed.
This is the terrifying stage I’m in right now. I am aware, acutely, painfully, how you, I—everyone I love (or dread) is a product of the home and family they were raised in. I see this with a clarity that I’ve only had once before, briefly in my teens—do you remember? That horrific black and white, unforgiving vision teenagers turn on their parents, teachers, the world? It’s back. And it’s extra-awful, because now, it’s also turned on myself, my peers.
Nature? It’s still a thing, for sure. My children thrust the power of nature in my face rudely, daily, hourly. But nature… it’s just raw material. Nurture or crush, develop or destroy, temper or indulge: I see the stamp of that on scarred-scared adult-children-who-are-now-parents all around me, in me, in you, and OMFG, parenting is everything and I cannot, cannot screw this up.
I really hope there’s a Stage 4, and it’s… what? Forgiveness, maybe? Something like that. But I can’t know what’s ahead; only what’s in my—your, our—past.
And everything we experienced up to this point, good or bad? It matters, so much. How we were raised matters. How we raise our children is everything. It’s how we change the world…
In the meantime: I look at these little people I have stewardship of and the little people—bigger now, how they grow, eh?—you have stewardship of, and I’m terrified.
Because everything I do matters—everything you do matters—everything we do shapes and affects them in some way… and I’m so very, very flawed.